May 19, 2008

The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death (March 25, 1997)


The Notorious B.I.G., birth name Christopher Wallace, only released one album in his lifetime. Mull over that statement for a minute. Biggie Smalls is generally considered to be one of the finest rappers ever carved from the oak tree of hip hop, and he only released one fucking album in his lifetime.

How is it possible that Biggie is that great, that he did more with his debut album than rappers that have been plugging away since 1979? It isn't. (And this is coming from a Biggie fan, one that always, without exception, chooses Biggie over 2Pac.) It isn't feasible that Biggie Smalls got everything right his first time out of the starting gate. His first album, Ready To Die, was riddled with freshman mistakes (although it is still pretty good overall), but that's okay. It's normal. You expect that. You release your first album, hope it sells okay, learn from your errors, grow as a musician, and steadily improve throughout your entire career. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Truth be told, Biggie Smalls only got the amount of press that he did while he was alive thanks to the unfortunate East Coast/West Coast rivalry that he found himself entangled with. Because Tupac Shakur was a larger-than-life character (if not a very good rapper). Because the media likes to portray events suck as this one (young African-American men doing battle with one another) as a "cautionary tale". Biggie was not considered the best rapper ever in any circles during his lifetime; he was merely thought of as good, with the potential to be great, but he needed more time to prove himself.

And then that shit happened with 2Pac. And then with Biggie himself. And we will never know if Biggie would become one of the greats through the tried and true method of practice.

However, we are able to ascertain a glimpse of the artist's progression on the double-disc set Life After Death, which doubles as his second and final album. (All of the other Notorious B.I.G. albums released afterward don't really count, and you know that.) Biggie's last magnum opus was released sixteen days after he passed in 1997, and became one of the first rap albums to sell over ten million discs (although, to be fair, as a double disc, it only had to sell five million albums to reach that distinction) thanks to Bad Boy label head/all around jackass Sean "Puffy" Combs's constant input: to my knowledge, Life After Death is one of the first rap albums that was specifically programmed to hit every single musical demographic available to them, a practice that is still done today, which is why hip hop is essentially dead. (I'm still puzzled as to why Puffy didn't try to include a country song on Life After Death.) Mixed in with Puff's piffle, though, is a darker-toned album than his debut, and we find Biggie suffering from intense paranoia brought about by success and mistrust of his peers. He witnesses death at every turn and anticipates his own passing, which makes for an incredibly somber listen; even the album's cover art plays up to this new world view. (Of course, this being a Bad Boy album, he makes his deep statements about life and death in between boasts of his sexual prowess and complaints that having more money seems to cause more problems in his life.)

I remember running out to the mall after class was over and listening to the first disc from this album in its entirety on the listening wall at Sam Goody. I wasn't able to buy it that day (lack of funds can be a bitch), but was able to add to its first-week sales that following weekend.

I guess we should be happy that we got to get a second album from the man.

DISC ONE

1. LIFE AFTER DEATH (INTRO) (FEAT PUFF DADDY)
I appreciate how Life After Death picks up right after Ready To Die, but the intro is unintentionally creepy as shit, thanks to the proximity of the release date from Biggie's actual passing. Puff's babbling also sounds pretentious as fuck. All in all, your average self-important rap album intro.

2. SOMEBODY'S GOTTA DIE
I never cared for this song.

3. HYPNOTIZE (FEAT PUFF DADDY & PAMELA LONG)
The first single, which I didn't really like at first. Seeing a bunch of girls at the club dance to it, and then hearing my wife sing along to the chorus, has turned me. The video is still just plain ridiculous, though.

4. KICK IN THE DOOR (FEAT THE MADD RAPPER)
The Madd Rapper interlude was funny the first time, but not so much today. However, look past that and you'll be rewarded with the fucking brilliant DJ Premier-produced "Kick In The Door", which uses Screaming Jay Hawkins's "I Put A Spell On You" to much better use than that dumbass Pringles commercial from a few years back. I can't state enough that this song is just awesome: when I had those headphones on at Sam Goody, I kept repeating this track over and over. And now that I know more about the creation of the song and hip hop in general, I think it's incredibly ballsy for Biggie to diss Primo's artist (at the time) Jeru The Damaja in the final verse, when he's essentially saying that to Primo's face.

5. FUCK YOU TONIGHT (FEAT R. KELLY)
Someone at Bad Boy had the brilliant idea of turning this into a radio hit by rechristening it "Lovin' You Tonight". Back when I was going through my Bad Boy phase, I thought this song was alright. Today, older and wiser, I'm kind of embarrassed (especially you can easily hear Kells singing that hook to a thirteen-year-old girl waiting outside of her school for a ride), but I'm sure there are some cute girls that still like this song, and for me, that's enough.

6. LAST DAY (FEAT THE LOX)
Produced by Havoc of Mobb Deep. Who would have ever thought that Havoc and The Lox would find themselves in opposite sides of a hip hop battle started by Curtis Jackson? (To his credit, Havoc hasn't actually gotten involved in the beef.) I never really liked this song, either.

7. I LOVE THE DOUGH (FEAT JAY-Z AND ANGELA WINBUSH)
Horrible. Yeah, that's the word I was looking for.

8. WHAT'S BEEF (FEAT PUFF DADDY)
Funny, I don't remember being disturbed by Biggie's mention of his n---a that's known to "kidnap kids, fuck them in the ass and throw them off a bridge" when I was younger. Was I that desensitized? Because that shit's fucked up. That said, this song is okay. (Like how I turned that around there?)

9. B.I.G. (INTERLUDE)
I know that the beat samples Schooly D's "P.S.K. (What Does It Mean)", but whenever I hear this interlude, all I hear is Siouxsie & the Banshees's "Kiss Them For Me", and while that is a good song, I'm pretty sure that's not the effect that Biggie and company intended.

10. MO MONEY MO PROBLEMS (FEAT PUFF DADDY, MA$E, & KELLY PRICE)
You already know this song. To me, this is the epitome of Puffy's Shiny Suit era, since it sounds like a Puffy and Ma$e song that Biggie was coerced into participating on with the threat of bodily harm.

11. N----S BLEED
Say what you want about the Biggie versus 2Pac debate, but Pac isn't known for telling stories in his rhymes; at least, not with the incredible attention to detail that Biggie employs. And as all great storytellers are prone to do, Biggie knows when to throw in a joke to alleviate the tension.

12. I GOT A STORY TO TELL
Did this really happen? Who knows? But it sounds plausible. The beat is too simple, and detracts from the tale, but I like how Biggie ends his verse, and then re-tells the story in a more traditional fashion, as if some more people showed up to the party.

Later pressings of Life After Death included a twenty-minute interview between Biggie and Rap City's Joe Clair immediately following "I Got A Story To Tell". I've never heard this interview, since I bought this album in its first pressing, so I'm not privy to any secrets that Biggie may have spilled.

DISC TWO

1. NOTORIOUS THUGS (FEAT BONE THUGS -N-HARMONY)
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony were big in my school in 1997 (you were issued a copy of E. 1999 Eternal at registration; I still have that tape somewhere), so when word got out that Biggie did a song with them, "Notorious Thugs" quickly became everybody's favorite song on Life After Death. I have many memories of riding around in the cars or various friends, driving to parties with this song stuck on repeat (yes, on purpose). As such, I get a nostalgic feeling whenever this song plays, and isn't that what music is great at doing, unlocking good memories? Even though, hearing this today, I realize that Biggie sounds as awkward on this beat as any rapper that makes the mistake of inviting Twista to the studio, the warm and fuzzies bring me back to a happier time.

2. MISS U (FEAT 112)
Pleasant enough. That's all I got.

3. ANOTHER (FEAT LIL KIM)
Biggie should have locked Puff Daddy out of the studio, lest his influence ruin yet another Life After Death song. Shit, too late.

4. GOING BACK TO CALI
B.I.G.'s attempt to show hip hop fans (and the media) that he had no beef with the West Coast, just with 2Pac and Suge Knight. The hook is lame, but I've always liked this track.

5. TEN CRACK COMMANDMENTS
Primo's other contribution, and while it isn't as nail-bitingly awesome as "Kick In The Door", it's still pretty good. It's also pretty hilarious that Jeru had the beat first, recording a promo for New York's Hot 97, before Biggie got a hold of it. And if anyone actually has a copy of that recording, I'd love to hear it. Anyone? Bueller?

6. PLAYA HATER (FEAT KEANNA HENSON)
This song fucked me up in 1997, since Biggie sings the entire track. Today, though, given the penchant of rappers who absolutely positively have to sing their own hooks (Curtis Jackson, anyone?) or even entire tracks (Snoop's "Sexual Eruption" is a trashy classic, stop lying to yourselves), Biggie just sounds ahead of his time. This isn't a good song by any measure, but just remember that it' s not supposed to be.

7. NASTY BOY (FEAT PUFF DADDY)
Sadly, I kind of like this track. I think the remix was a much better track, but I can't confirm that, as I am too lazy to try to find that in my stacks.

8. SKY'S THE LIMIT (FEAT 112)
I fucking love this song (especially when Biggie talks about sewing alligators on his shirts), but I probably developed those feelings after watching Spike Jonze's brilliant video for the first time, with the kids playing the rapper roles (you just gotta love the little boy dressed up as Busta Rhymes, but dressing a little girl as Lil Kim is disturbing as fuck).

9. THE WORLD IS FILLED... (FEAT CARL THOMAS, PUFF DADDY & TOO $HORT)
This song got some radio airplay around my way. If you can look past Puff Daddy's verse, you'll find a pretty damn entertaining track.

10. MY DOWNFALL (FEAT DMC)
I always considered DMC to be a strange choice for the hook, but it works. This song is a pretty good aural representation of paranoia, although Puffy's shouting threatens to hash the mellow. Biggie's recollection of his own death is pretty unsettling, though.

11. LONG KISS GOODNIGHT (FEAT PUFF DADDY)
Supposed produced by The Rza, although I've heard word on the Interweb that 4th Disciple actually created this instrumental, only to trade production credits with Prince Rakeem for Killah Priest's "Tai Chi". Is that true? Probably not, since I don't know why 4th Disciple would give up a production credit on a project with a much higher profile. But either way, this song is good.

12. YOU'RE NOBODY (TILL SOMEBODY KILLS YOU) (FEAT FAITH EVANS & PUFF DADDY)
A good song, but a very creepy way to end what would end up being your final album. It's fitting, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Let's be honest with ourselves. Life After Death is a waste of resources. It certainly did not have to consist of two discs; I still believe that this concept only came about because 2Pac was audacious enough to record a double-disc album immediately after being sprung from the clink. However, most of those songs were garbage, and the same can be said about Biggie's last album. However, there is a great collection of songs (not necessarily an album, but a collection of songs) to be culled from the debris, and those songs are listed below. While I am thankful that we were given a wealth of new material, especially since Biggie would never again record, I would have preferred a shorter, tighter set to honor his legacy, rather than this bloated affair.

BUY OR BURN? About half of the twenty-four songs are good; the rest are crap. I'm going to tentatively recommend a purchase, though, since you can probably get this for five bucks. Consider yourselves forewarned, though.

BEST TRACKS: "Kick In The Door"; "N---s Bleed"; "Notorious Thugs"; "Going Back To Cali"; "Ten Crack Commandments"; "Sky's The Limit"; "You're Nobody (Till Somebody Kills You)"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die
Puff Daddy & The Family - No Way Out

25 comments:

  1. I've always said that this album should have been one disc and not two since it's not a classic like some people (and The Source) say. It would have been great @ 12 songs but Puffy was too greedy. 'I Love the Dough' is pure trash, too.

    Vincent
    thimk.wordpress.com

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  2. This is a double disc, so I'm not sure where you can buy double discs for five bucks, but if you'd please direct me there, that'd be nice hahaha
    anyway, sky's the limit is an AMAZING song, and i agree pretty much 100%. like most too-young-to-be-deceased musicians, i feel sometimes their legacy is strengthened. check the post titled "real legends never die" if you hadnt seen that yet (shameless plug)
    keep up the good work

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  3. AnonymousMay 19, 2008

    Fuck you and your $5 suggestion. Your mom charges that for her nightly service you motherfucking cunt cum licking homo ass bitch. I love this album.

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  4. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessMay 19, 2008

    I basically agree with your assessment of the album if not your assessment of Biggie as a rapper. You're also ruthless regarding Tupac Shakur. Prepare for the onslaught of homophobic taunts.

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  5. If you really love this album, then you obviously failed to grasp the point of the post. There are a lot of great songs on here, about one album's worth, and more is not always better.

    You can usually tell the hip hop "fans" that have a mind of their own when it comes to this particular album: Biggie was a good rapper. He wasn't a great rapper. And a lot of songs on Life Afer Death are fucking horrible. You mean to tell me that "I Love The Dough" bangs in your whip to this day? Fuck that shit, and thanks for reading!

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  6. apparently anonymous is flirting. I've never been on the "Biggie=God" bandwagon. This album doesn't hold up. He was dope, and ghost wrote a lot blah blah blah but his death was what catapulted him into super duper status. R.I.P. and all that. "Kiss Them For Me" is in fact a dope track.

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  7. KingOfThaBayMay 19, 2008

    I like the I Love The Dough so take your opinion and shove it up your ass!

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  8. Good post. Never heard that Kick in the Door's final verse was at Jeru. How can you tell? I know Jeru went after Puff on his records but he doesn't mention Jeru's name on the track...

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  9. AnonymousMay 19, 2008

    "fuckin you tonight", as an adult I hate the fact that r.kelly is on there...

    "whats beef",gutta and d-roc sittin in the feds now, maybe the sodomy was truly possible for gutta...

    "niggas bleed", top 10 ever song list...remember when vibe broke the song down in 97...

    don't the garbage songs make you appreciate the great/classic ones all the more?...

    15 tracka album would have been better, but then we would dwindle that down wouldnt me? to how many songs I wonder...

    Great review Max, honest,straight unbiased view, close to my own thoughts...

    I still put "niggas bleed" up against
    "I gave you power" somedays as the best narrative song from my era...thats like trying to pick which child you love the most...

    mr.childs, more comments to come Max Thank you

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  10. 'I Love The Dough' is THE SHIIIT!

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  11. AnonymousMay 20, 2008

    good review, at least it's honest. as for me I'd put LaD a little higher in my ranks, I got it in the day of release and still love it to death... but I can understand that some tracks are ain't that hot anymore and got no replay value (I Love The Dough included)...

    But Biggie isn't just "good rapper", he's one of the greatest, one of the great 4 imo to ever pick up the mic..

    keep rockin, man

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  12. eh, this album was great but "Ready To Die" still remains as B.I.G.'s true classic IMO! some of the guest appearances here weren't necessary and it seemed like Diddy tried to change Biggie into becoming more mainstream acceptable. "I Love the Dough" was one my favorite tracks btw... i've heard far worse.

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  13. You're buggin on this one Max. This is a classic album. The fact that it manages to cross so many demographics is the genius part about it. Even the "Bad" songs are better thn some artist best efforts. You're being way too harsh on this album.

    "2. SOMEBODY'S GOTTA DIE
    I never cared for this song."

    Not a great song, but B.I.G. was a great storyteller...like I said before, even the weakest track are decent. You're slippin Max.

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  14. ManifestMay 20, 2008

    i got a story to tell too simple?

    that beat is a buckwild/chucky thompson classic...but the og with the sample they couldn't clear is even better...and because I like what you do with this place, here you go:

    http://www.zshare.net/audio/12329692ef5af688/

    pretty on point, besides that...

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  15. The chorus for "My Downfall" is from a Run-DMC song, so it's nice to have DMC redo the hook instead of just sampling it. I pretty much agree with whole review. I long ago made this disc into a single CD and sold the original...and don't regret it.

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  16. AnonymousMay 24, 2008

    long kiss goodnight is an epic. IMHO the best track, and sounds really good with "you're nobody til..."

    it is said to be created by not 4th Disciple, but True Master, which is maybe true (sounds like his style)

    i don't really understand the harsh criticism on all eyez on me, it is a great album, one of my favorites :)

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  17. wow.

    i love the dough is a great fucking song.
    miss u too.

    i never liked biggie that much but this album is a classic

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  18. this album was OK ,its no where near his best album,and definitely not better than Ready to die

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  19. You kinda threw me with this one too... I think that for those who just wanted a straight-up street album, they weren't gonna be happy with this one. I, however, was one who was really a fan of older r&b music and other things like that, and didn't mind it when hip-hop started to add some of that into the mix. It was different from the dark, gloomy sh*t that was also good, but really done to death by that point. So, a song like "I Love The Dough", while super-happy and very radio-intended, was good to me. I think this was one of those albums that were meant for more than just sitting in the room and listening to while deciphering the lyrics and whatnot. Not a bad thing at all... it's definitely THAT album that everyone bumped the hell out of in '97 and seemingly carries a lot of memories for anyone who grew up in that era. Definitely a classic.

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  20. fuck you bitch this album is a very best song !

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  21. Good review Max, I do disagree with you on some points though, but we all have our opinions I guess, Notorious Thugs is my shit!! lol I love that song, btw when are you going to review any Bone Thugs material? I've been waiting to hear your opinion on them

    Peace,

    your third reader, Raf

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  22. I have to totally disagree with your review, Max. This is without a doubt the best double album in hip hop history! 13 years later, it sounds just as good today than it did in 1997. Sure, some of the references on "I love the dough" sound a little dated, but it has great lyrics and punchlines from both B.I.G. and Jay. Speaking of Jay, he should thank Biggie every day for showing him how to rap or he probably would still be rapping Fu Schnikens style. If Biggie wasn't a great rapper, then I guess that me and many others don't understand what a great rapper is. (that term "best rapper alive" didn't begin before Biggie passed on) Even the filler tracks like player hater and another are ok compared to the trash that gets on radio today. B.I.G. and Tupac are legends and their legacies will always be what every mc compares themself to; present or in the future.

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  23. i disagree with you on some things max, like you said that most of the songs were garbage, i dont think so but i do agree with you on the fact that I Love The Dough was a meh track, this album deserves 3.5/5 because biggie alone was the star of the album, oh yeah and the Preemo tracks were the hardest ones out of the whole album! i say like 5 songs are meh but not alot, but i guess we are all entitled to our opinion, but like i said biggie, preemo, havoc and RZA are the stars of this album

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  24. I totally agree with you on this, biggie is awesome, but this album is a very mixed bag

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  25. I actually like this album better than "Ready to Die." I love both of those albums, but this one I like more. I like tracks like "I Love the Dough" and "Hypnotize." All in all this is probably in my top 3 favourite hip hop albums. Still, you have your own views, which is fair enough. I got a lot of entertainment out of this comment though:

    "Fuck you and your $5 suggestion. Your mom charges that for her nightly service you motherfucking cunt cum licking homo ass bitch. I love this album."

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